Math tutor Nora Ford's cancer fight helped her overcome fear of horses

Nora Ford looks good on a horse. In a picture of her fording a stream, she looks comfortable and content. Her face has a touch of mirth.

She had passed her own personal test — just as she had helped so many math-challenged students learn not to fear calculus and that the SAT was their friend.

“She always had this fear of horses, so in the last couple of years, she took horse-riding lessons,” said her daughter, Mary Ford of Atlanta. “She wanted to confront her fear of horses and put it behind her. She thought nothing could be scarier than cancer, so if she could handle that, she certainly could handle being on a horse.”

The Atlanta woman and her husband, Ed, had retired to Little Hendricks Peak in North Georgia about six years ago. There they often watched the sun rise from their deck in the morning, knowing she had another day. It was a happy place.

“She loved being up there. Even when her illness confined her to being inside, she still felt like she was outdoors up there,” her daughter said. “It is very peaceful.”

Nora Bailey Ford, 61, died of cancer Wednesday. A memorial service will be held Monday at Our Lady of the Assumption.

Mrs. Ford made her mark on the world in a few different ways, but she was probably best known for her skill as a math tutor to scores of Marist, Chamblee and Dunwoody students who were mystified by the formulas and calculations.

“She had this way of making things so much easier to understand, it is just a talent she had,” said former student Mary Bligh, now a 27-year-old nurse. “She never made you feel stupid or like you couldn’t do it. My middle sister became a teacher because of Mrs. Ford, because of the way she reached students. If you didn’t get it, she would find a way to make you understand it.”

For her four children, Mom’s mathematical bent meant a childhood full of equations.

“She would always make us think about the mathematics in something,” said her son Matt Ford of Austin, Texas. “Even when cooking in the kitchen, she would work in a lesson.”

She met her husband in high school in Richmond, and they were married for 41 years. She graduated from the University of Richmond, and they moved to Atlanta, where her husband practiced law. In 1976 she began her math tutoring business and taught hundreds of students.

“It got to the point that she was so busy tutoring that it was hard to get in to see her,” Ms. Bligh said. “There was almost a waiting list to get tutored by her.”

Mrs. Ford was also a Mary Kay consultant, and, as she did with her tutoring, she used cosmetic consulting to expand her social network. Just two weeks ago, her daughter said she took her to the hospital for a cancer treatment and then they had to make a Mary Kay stop to a longtime customer.

“She always wanted to look her best, and she made a lot of friends doing it,” Ms. Ford said. “Mary Kay was a way she could get out of the house and have something that was her own.”

Nora Ford also developed a passion for genealogy.

“She was traditional, and her family and her past meant a lot to her,” said Mr. Ford, her son. “She had a lot of things in her house, family heirlooms, and they meant a lot to her. She liked to tell her kids what things were and where they came from.”

Her daughter, however, hoped that the family trait she most hoped she inherited from her mother was her steely will. Mary Ford firmly believed that her mother was able to hold off death from cancer — a type that was never fully diagnosed — for so long simply because she was determined to live. But last Sunday, Mary Ford said, her mother and father had a talk, and she said she was done fighting. The next day they met with the hospice people, and two days later Nora Ford died.

Mary Bligh, the nurse, spent many days with Mrs. Ford during the last chapter in her life.

“I hope someday if I have children I can find someone to mentor them like she mentored me,” Ms. Bligh said. “She was never down on life. She was always optimistic. Even when she knew she couldn’t help herself more and there wasn’t anything more she could do, she still had this great outlook.

“I think that was good for her family to see.”

Besides her husband, Matt and Mary, Mrs. Ford’s survivors include sons Blair Ford of San Francisco and Brian Ford of Atlanta; five grandchildren; and a brother.